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4 February 2013
The new supermarket ombudsman, Christine Tacon is being asked to probe the major supermarkets’ relationships with their suppliers and the pressure they exert to drive down labour costs.
Unite, the country’s largest union in the country, has written to Ms Tacon, the recently appointed Groceries Code Adjudicator, asking her to investigate four aspects of the supermarket bosses’ relationships with farmers and growers.
Unite is fighting to retain the Agricultural Wages Board (AWB) which has protected the incomes of 150,000 agricultural workers since the Second World War.
Unite sees the hand of the major supermarkets behind the government’s plan to abolish the AWB, and, as a result, drive down workers’ wages to poverty levels and increasing the supermarkets’ already handsome profits.
Unite wants the four-pronged probe to include:
• the relationship between supermarkets, their suppliers, and the pay and conditions of workers employed by those suppliers;
• the links between supermarket pricing regimes and the abolition of the AWB, including analysis by respondents to the government’s consultation on AWB abolition that unfair prices paid by supermarkets are leading suppliers to look for profits by cutting workers’ pay;
• supermarkets’ ethical codes of responsibility which should be reviewed in light of what is happening to the AWB;
• a food and farming system that is fit for the future should have fair treatment for its workers at its heart.
Unite national officer for rural and agriculture, Julia Long said: “This is the first big test for Christine Tacon and will reveal if the new ombudsman has real teeth to right injustices and inequalities in the major supermarkets’ relationships with their suppliers which, in turn, impacts, currently adversely, on those working on the land.”
In her new role, Christine Tacon will be responsible for enforcing the Groceries Supply Code of Practice, which regulates interactions between the ten largest supermarkets with an annual turnover of £1bn and their direct suppliers.